Recognized as the best girls basketball player in Connecticut, Stonington High School junior Heather Buck had a dominant season this past winter. The 6'3" center averaged 27.0 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.4 steals, 2.5 blocks and 2.3 assists per game - stuffing the stat sheet each time she took the floor.
This past week in Colorado Springs, the nationally ranked recruit found herself in the midst of another level of basketball at the 2007 USA Basketball Women's Youth Development Festival. Buck was one of 24 players in the Class of 2008 invited to attend, along with 11 elite participants from the Class of 2009.
"It was the best competition I've ever played against," Buck says. "It was the most concentrated talent that I have ever been around in that volume. There were 35 girls there, and it was amazing in that aspect - to look around and see what we all could do. You saw it when we played together, and even in the drills. Any time I got out, I found myself standing there and thinking, 'Wow. This is what this drill can look like.'"
"It really gave me an opportunity to see where I can improve," she says of the experience. "The thing that I might have known but was really reinforced: I really need to work on my ballhandling, especially with my left hand. And there is more that I can do with post moves."
The Festival included games between four teams, three of which were constructed from the 35 American players. A fourth team was comprised of top juniors from Brazil. Buck played on the USA Red team, which went 2-1 during the round robin games on Friday and Saturday. Wearing #35, Buck had some areas of success. She grabbed seven rebounds in the first game and scored a perfect 5-of-5 from the field to go with nine rebounds the next time out. In her third game, which came against Brazil and was easily the lowest scoring of the affairs, Buck had just two points and four rebounds. USA Red lost the semifinal game on Saturday but rebounded to win the bronze medal against Brazil on Sunday.
Her averages through the five games of the Festival: 4.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 19.2 minutes per game. Her rebounding was tied for 11th among all players.
"Mr. Coughlin [AAU coach, Rhode Island Breakers] always tells me that defense and my rebounding are my greatest strengths. That was what I really focus on anytime I'm going someplace I'm nervous or struggling to play well," Buck offers. "I focus on playing tight defense and just going after the ball. If I do that, I know that everything else will fall into place. I think that throughout the week, I was able to do that. There were moments that weren't great, but I think for the most part I did play tight defense and had a fair number of rebounds."
With her team tallying nearly 91 points per game, Buck may have hoped to score in a more prolific fashion. Her touches, minutes and scoring opportunities were admittedly limited in this environment. It was notable, however, that her 61.1% shooting from the field towered above her teammates. Only three other players at the Festival shot better than 50% from the floor. Buck humbly attributes her skyscraping percentage to her shot selection.
"I didn't really shoot unless I knew I was going to make it or I had a good chance of making it," she explains. "With that group, I was in a situation where I did not have to score. If I passed up an opportunity where I might have shot the ball, there was somebody who was ready to shoot or give the ball to the next person ready to shoot. It was kind of fun in that respect."
In addition to the competitive basketball environment afforded to Buck in Colorado Springs, the four-star center prospect was also surrounded by a dense population of recruits who are considering similar college options. One of her favorite schools, in-state UConn, had two '08 commits at the Festival: Caroline Doty and Tiffany Hayes. Another of her favorites, Stanford, had two of their top recruits playing on her USA Red team: Sarah Boothe and Nneka Ogwumike.
"We did talk about schools, but not a lot," Buck shares. "It wasn't really something that we focused on a lot. We focused on how sore we were, or how many stairs there were. Gosh, we shouldn't be getting tired going up those stairs when doing drills for just an hour and a half! [laughs] We talked about it, but it wasn't really one of our major focuses."
A recent report in the Connecticut Post claimed that Buck has cut her list of seven schools - UConn, Stanford, Maryland, Notre Dame, Boston College, George Washington and Holy Cross - to a final three. Both Buck and her mother have separately denied the report and told The Bootleg that the list still stands at seven.
"I have not read the article, but I have heard about it numerous times," the recruit reports. "I'm still at seven, and right now I'm working on finishing up my exams and getting done with school before I start working on deciding on a school."
Stonington High School is concluding their final exams this week, and Buck says that all recruiting activities will have to wait a few more days - including work on her Stanford admissions application.
"That's also on hold. Everything is kind of on hold," she laughs. "First it was USA Basketball. Now that that's done, it's back to exams."
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